Surrey & Borders NHS Foundation Trust in the U.K. hosts a modest mental health inpatient population with a large community-based service. Because not all care can be provided effectively on a dispersed model, in 2010 the trust identified the need for a new long-term home that would provide 24-hour support for seven adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Mental health design firm Medical Architecture was selected to develop the setting for the service.

Design workshops led by the architect with a stakeholder panel tested design options on a woodland site in a quiet corner of the existing Oakland’s Hospital. Objectives were to provide a stigma-free and recognizable civic form (while the remainder of the hospital site is redeveloped for private housing), while also creating an environment that’s private and secure for its vulnerable residents. The design of Oakwood emphasizes its inward-looking aspect: Vertical timber cladding wraps protectively around the external facade and allows the building to sit comfortably in its woodland setting. The interior spaces open onto a light but secure central courtyard, providing natural daylight and views into soft landscaping.

The design aims to provide reassuring features with carefully graduated territory. Ceiling heights are varied to enhance the sense of personal space and delineate privacy. Wide thresholds and curved walls are used to soften the experience of joining the interpersonal realm. Seating in corridors overlooking the courtyard garden provide controlled stimulus and moderate the features of a therapeutic environment. The interior design uses wood surfaces for warmth and familiarity, while acoustic finishes dampen high-frequency noise.